Rig Rundown: Tim Pierce
The L.A.-based session ace takes PG through his studio and talks about his love for “player grade” guitars.
Tim Pierce’s guitar can be heard on more than a thousand recordings, starting in the ’80s, when he played on hits by Bon Jovi, John Waite, and Rick Springfield. In subsequent years, he’s added to his resume with recorded performances for Crowded House, Christina Aguilera, Seal, Avril Lavigne, Tracy Chapman, Joe Cocker, Ricky Martin, Meat Loaf, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Rob Thomas, Rick Springfield, Phil Collins, Madonna, Toy Matinee, Don Henley, Santana, Rascal Flatts, Chris Isaak, Jewel, Faith Hill, Celine Dion, Dave Matthews Band, the Goo Goo Dolls, Lana Del Ray, Demi Lovato, Jason Mraz, Kelly Clarkson, and many more.
These days, Pierce also has a popular YouTube channel with more than 400,000 subscribers and offers an online masterclass program for thousands of users. You can get more information at timpierceguitar.com.
Meanwhile, here’s what we saw—and learned—when Pieces shared the wisdom and the gear he’s accumulated in four decades of playing sessions.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.
Here’s a look at Tim Pierce’s go-to instruments, including a 1962 ES-335, a 2020 Gibson Custom Shop 1960 Les Paul reissue with Arcane humbuckers, a one-off PRS McCarty 594 Singlecut in black with binding, and a ’62 Fender Jaguar strung with flatwounds.
After nearly four decades of sessions, Pierce has pretty much every tool for any job. His heavy rotation includes this 1962 Gibson ES-335, which has enough wear to be considered “player grade,” with Ron Ellis pickups. Most of Tim’s electric guitars are strung with Elixir nanoweb strings, either .009 through .042, or .010 through .046.
This 2022 Mario hardtail S-style with a paulonia-wood body weighs a mere 4 pounds 13 ounces!
The Right Stripe
You’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful flame top than this 2019 PRS McCarty Flame Top Doublecut. It sports a carved flame maple top on a mahogany body, a rosewood fretboard, two volumes, two push-pull tone controls, and a 3-way switch.
Pierce has a lot of amps to choose from in his control room, including this 1967 Marshall Super PA 100 head (top) and 1968 Marshall Super Tremolo plexi.
A Park, Divided
There’s also a Park JTM 45-100 from a limited run of 10 and a Divided by 13 RSA 23 head, with 23 watts, natch.
More Amped Up
Rounding out the lineup of Pierce’s amplifiers is a Bad Cat Lynx, a Bad Cat Hot Cat, and a Joe Morgan custom 15 head (not pictured).
That’s 16 x 48
Pierce’s amp cabs live in a separate, sealed room, built specifically for isolation, far from the control room. They include these four vintage Marshall 4x12 cabinets, dating from 1968 through the early 1970s. There’s also a vintage Vox 2x12 with 15W Bulldogs.
He keeps his cabs miked with Shure SM57s, two Royer R-122V tube ribbon microphones, and two Sony C800 large diaphragm condensers from the early ’90s. A Scheops CMC5 condenser microphone is used for acoustic guitars.
Tim Pierce's Pedalboard
Pierce began the interview playing though his main mobile Pedal Board, which includes a Nobels ODR-1, a Strymon Lex rotary, a Keeley/Timmons Halo delay, a Meris LVX delay, a Karma MTN-10 overdrive, an XTS Modded Boss GE-7 equalizer and Boss TR-2 Tremolo, a vintage Boss VB-2 Vibrato, an MXR Reverb, a Fairchild Circuitry Shallow Water modulation pedal, a Providence System Tuner, two Dunlop mini expression pedals, a Dunlop volume pedal, a Voodoo Lab Dingbat pedalboard, and a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Mondo.
Pedal Muscle, Part II
While in his studio cockpit, these are Pierce’s effects, which you can hear him play in his online videos: Ibanez MT10 Mostortion, Vemuram ODS-1, Nobels ODR-1, MXR Boost/Line Driver, Way Huge Red Llama, Boss OC-2 Octave, Boss VB-2 Vibrato, Way Huge Supa-Puss Analog Delay, Fender MTG Tube Tremolo, Universal Audio Golden Reverberator, Neon Egg Planetarium 3, Ebo E-verb, three Eventide H9s used with the iPad App, and a Boomerang Looper. And as you can see with the additional gear photos, Tim Pierce owns (nearly) every tone-tweaking device ever made!
Shop Tim Pierce's Rig
Tim Pierce Rig
First Look: EarthQuaker Devices Hizumitas
Boris's guitar sorceress gets a ferocious signature fuzz that riffs on a rare version of the triangle Big Muff.
SolidGoldFX Imperial MKII Review
Slip 'n' slide away with a middy, massive, and gated Muff-style fuzz.
Fat Big Muff-style sounds and powerful tone-sculpting tools that shape more unique fuzz tones. Subtle but musical gate. Practical and amazing-looking slider controls.
Gated sound can be hard to use predictably and won't be music to everyone's ears.
SolidGoldFX Imperiall MkII
As jaded as I can be about fuzz (I see and hear a lot of them), it's hard to keep from getting giddy about the SolidGoldFX Imperial MkII. With slider controls and a red-on-black color scheme, it's clearly an homage to the early '70s JEN Jumbo Fuzz, a vintage unit I covet not just for its ultra-sick Big Muff-based tones and quirky gate function, but it's jaw-droppingly awesome Italo-sci-fi graphics.
SolidGoldFX couldn't deliver all the visual deliciousness of a JEN Jumbo Fuzz without turning the Imperial MkII into an impractical, space-intensive, and expensive boutique oddity. But what it may lack in authentic vintage style, it makes up for with massive, ripping, and sometimes mangled fuzz that turns the Big Muff formula on its ear and dishes many deviant and super-tough tones.
Slideways, Here We Come
It's a wonder and a shame that sliding potentiometers aren't used more often in simple effects. Yep, there's a chance that a fair bit of dust, grime, and cheap beer could work their way through those slider slots over time (particularly if you're the kind of weirdo that gravitates toward a fuzz this filthy). But as visual reference for levels on a dark stage, it's hard to beat four bright white lines in parallel orientation. That the slider array looks so bitchin' is a bonus. But so is the ease with which you can make fast, and even musically dynamic, adjustments on the fly, even with your foot. The potential for dirty pots aside, it's an exceptionally practical and flexible design.
Volume, tone, and fuzz controls do what you'd expect. But the Imperial MKII improves upon the Jumbo Fuzz—at least in terms of flexibility—with the addition of a contour control that scoops or bumps the mids. It can profoundly affect the fuzz voice as well as the performance of the dynamic noise gate that makes the Imperial MKII feel and sound so unique.
At the Gates of Fuzz Heaven
The original JEN Jumbo Fuzz was essentially a Big Muff circuit with a few modifications—most notably a germanium noise gate. Similarly, the original Imperial was SolidGoldFX's own version of a 3-knob, 4-transistor Muff.
Predictably, the Imperial MKII exhibits many sonic hallmarks of a Muff. For starters, it's loud—one of the louder Muff-style circuits I've heard in a while. And while it may have the toppier edge of an earlier triangle Big Muff or a Ram's Head, it still has loads of bottom-end ballast to lend a sense of mass. Getting the most recognizable Muff-style tones is a matter of keeping the contour control low, which scoops the mids. The rich, complex sounds found here are awesome for Dinosaur Jr.-style rhythm tones and punky desert-rock chug. And all of these sounds are enhanced by the sometimes subtle, and occasionally very obvious, gate.
If you lower your guitar volume—especially with a neck-position single-coil—you can dish fat and extra-percussive "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" rhythm stabs.
In general, I'm not a big fan of gated fuzz. I like as much sustain as my rig will permit, and most gates feel rude and intrusive, even when they're doing cool things. But the Imperial MkII's gate isn't too intense. On the original Jumbo Fuzz, the germanium gate was added to keep noise to a minimum. But in heavy rhythm applications, the MkII's gate works beautifully as punctuation for palm-muted patterns. It's not too clipped or harsh and it's surprisingly dynamic. If you lower your guitar volume—especially with a neck-position single coil—you can dish fat and extra-percussive "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" rhythm stabs. Place these clipped but substantial textures against a tight drummer, and the results can be devastatingly funky.
The one thing you won't achieve with the Imperial MkII is soaring sustain in the Gilmour vein. Sustained notes sound huge and smooth—until they don't. And if you attempt an operatic two-step bend you will invariably hear your signal collapse upon itself into awkward silence. If endless rivers of sustain are your first priority, there are many Muff-style circuits that will do the job more elegantly.
For a dude that doesn't care much for gated fuzz, I fell head over heels for the Imperial MkII. The contour control and gate totally recast the Big Muff tone formula in fascinating ways. It's powerful, flexible, unexpectedly dynamic, and the slider-based controls are practical and look fantastic. The Imperial MkII is a terrific Big Muff alternative, but it is an outstanding fuzz by any measure that deserves a category of its own.